Thursday 1 October, 2020

Committee slams EMBD; billions in variations

Tourism Minister and committee member Shamfa Cudjoe grilled members of the Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBD) after it was revealed that the company's audited statements had not been submitted since 2011.

Speaking at a Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee on Wednesday, Cudjoe said it seems the company has a record of mismanagement.

She also queried the completion of projects undertaken by the company after it was noted that some contracts ballooned into the billion-dollar mark, asking what was done to show for this.

“These monies that have been given in contracts and this work that we have given contractors to do, where are we in the completion of these projects and what kind of regulations do you have on hand to ensure that you get value for money?”

“I cannot see how you can give a contract for $66 million and then it transforms into $659 million more in variations.”

“Over the years EMBD has been coming up with $1.5 (million), in some cases two, three billion dollars in variations and I want to know what is being done or what has been done.”

Permanent secretary Angela Siew said a forensic audit will be done into certain projects undertaken by the state-owned company, which is responsible for the development and distribution of all State agricultural lands.

JSC chairman Wade Mark said the lack of audited statements is ‘inexcusable’.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars that have been allocated to this company over the years and it is unacceptable, indefensible, inexcusable, for the Parliament not to have sight of the financial audited accounts of this organisation for the period under review, that is, 2011 to 2015.”

“There’s a complete breakdown.”

Mark asked for details regarding the audit, to which Siew requested that the information be supplied in writing, not ‘in public’.

EMBD chairman Shameer Ronnie Mohammed said the company expects to submit the audited accounts for 2013-2015 within the next six months and that the audited accounts for 2011 and 2012 were signed off and are in the process of being submitted.

Yvette Babb, Director, Social and Economic Transformation at the Finance Ministry’s Investments Division, said that in the period 2012-2015 Board changed hands which made things difficult, but the new Board contacted them in February 2017 to move things forward.

“It was very difficult to get things done at that institution. But we have a new Board, they wrote to us indicating they would put the systems in place to get the reports done and we are willing to work with them…they’re going to get an internal auditor.”

She said an audit into the projects is being done, the results of which are supposed to be available “in the near future”.

 

Contractors unpaid

Committee member Tim Gopeesingh also asked when the EMBD will pay outstanding payments of up to $2.206 billion owed to contractors.

“Your statement indicated that you have outstanding $2.206 billion for payment for VSEP contractors, VSEP consultants, agricultural access roads, SLDP (State Lands Development Project), fish landing, fence line, boat projects, miscellaneous and estimated legal claims. How do you intend to deal with that? What is the status?”

“I see that you have large contractors-31- that is for works valued at greater than $35 million; you have 19 medium contractors for work between $12 million to $35 million; 65 small contractors for work valued at $2 million to $12 million; and 19 micro-contractors for work less than $2 million.”

Mohammed asked that this information be provided in writing, to which Gopeesingh asked that it be given during the meeting.

“This is for the national population to understand. $2.2 billion is owed to contractors and they are suffering. What is EMBD doing about it?”

“The contractors are suffering, their businesses are foreclosing, the banks are repossessing their property. What does EMBD want to do?”

“You are reporting to the nation. This is why we brought it in public."

"What is it that you want to hide?”

Mark then allowed for the information to be supplied in writing, which would later be disseminated to the public. 

 

For the full meeting see here: http://bit.ly/2oem3H6 

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